Donald Trump’s legal team suffered a blow Thursday when a New York appellate court rejected its efforts to get a defamation lawsuit against Trump dismissed. The civil suit against Trump stems from former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, who has accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in 2007. Make no mistake, Thursday’s ruling against Trump, who has repeatedly sought to block the lawsuit, is a strike for the rule of law and the principle that no one is above the law. Allowing Zervos’s lawsuit to proceed now opens up the possibility that Trump could be deposed.
Trump’s attorneys had argued that the suit could not move forward because it would violate the Supremacy Clause—which elevates the Constitution and federal laws over state laws—by interfering with Trump’s ability to do his job. But the New York appeals court said the clause in no way grants Trump such immunity. Citing the 1997 Supreme Court ruling against then-President Bill Clinton in civil litigation related to Paula Jones’s sexual harassment accusations, the New York court wrote:
Defendant’s reading of the Supremacy Clause — that it bars a state court from exercising jurisdiction over him because he is the “ultimate repository of the Executive Branch’s powers and is required by the Constitution to be ‘always in function’” -– finds no support in the constitutional text or case law. Defendant’s interpretation conflicts with the fundamental principle that the United States has a “government of laws and not of men” (Cooper v Aaron, 358 US 1, 23  [internal quotation marks omitted]). Despite the suggestion in his brief that he is the “embodi[ment of] the Executive Branch,” and though he is tasked with significant responsibilities, the President is still a person, 16 and he is not above the law. […] Therefore, the Supremacy Clause does not provide blanket immunity to the President from having to defend against a civil damages action against him in state court.
Zervos’s attorney Marianne Wang eagerly awaits the opportunity to prove her client’s claims correct in a court of law where, as U.S. Judge Amy Berman Jackson noted Wednesday, “facts still matter.”
“We look forward to proving to a jury that Ms. Zervos told the truth about Defendant’s unwanted sexual groping and holding him accountable for his malicious lies,” Wang said in a statement.